Prof. Mona Siddiqui – Love and Law in Christianity and Islam

(Subtitles by Pauline Ward) Good evening. I’d like to offer you a very warm welcome. I’m Dorothy Miell, the
Vice-Principal of the university and Head of the
College of Humanities and Social Science. But I’m actually here because the Principal, who was hoping to introduce the evening, unfortunately can’t be with us, so I’m standing in for him this evening. He offers his apologies to all of you,
but knows that you’ll have an excellent evening. We’re meeting here tonight
in St Cecilia’s Hall, which is the oldest purpose-built concert hall
in Scotland. The lower hall downstairs was
originally built in 1763, and it now houses one of the best collections of early keyboard and other musical instruments
in the world. So it’s a very special venue for a very special inaugural. Professor Siddiqui joined the university as the first Muslim Chair in Islamic and Interreligious Studies in December 2011. Before that she was the Professor of Islamic Studies at Glasgow University for 15 years and there she directed the Centre for the Study of Islam. Mona was born in Karachi
and came to the UK at the age of 5. She grew up in West Yorkshire and then studied at the universities of Leeds
and Manchester. Her first degree was in Arabic and French, followed by a Masters in Middle Easters Studies. She then received a scholarship
at Manchester University to pursue her PhD in classical Islamic law,
which she completed in 1991. Since then her research areas have primarily been in the field of Islamic jurisprudence
and Christian-Muslim relations. Amongst her many publications
some of the most recent are – “Christians, Muslims and Jesus”, “The Good Muslim: Reflections on Classical Islamic Law and Theology”, “The Routledge Reader
in Christian-Muslim Relations”, and “How To Read The Qur’an”, as well as very many articles and think-pieces. As well as her Chair here she currently holds a Visiting Professorship at the university’s of Utrecht and Tilburg, and is an Associate Scholar at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. But importantly, as well as these and many other
distinguished academic contributions to her discipline Mona is very engaged beyond the academy. She engages on issues of faith and ethics in society as a very well-known public intellectual. Professor Siddiqui is a regular commentator in print and broadcast media, a frequent contributor to Thought For The Day for
BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland, and chairs the BBC’s
Religious Advisory Committee. She’s a Fellow of both
the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the Royal Society of Arts, and in December last year was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Scottish Architects in recognition of her public work in the UK. In 2011 she was awarded an OBE for her contribution to inter-faith services. As well as her original doctorate she also holds three honorary doctorates and currently serves as Assistant Principal here for Religion and Society. I know that many friends, colleagues and fans of Professor Siddiqui are with us this evening. But I’d also like to warmly welcome her husband and pass on her thanks for not only your support over the years but for your encouragement for her to come and join us here at Edinburgh. We certainly appreciate that, and I know her colleagues at New College are very keen to have had her here, and have given her a very warm welcome
over the last year. After the lecture we’ll have a question and answer short period but then we’d be delighted to welcome all of you to join us at an informal reception downstairs. And I hope that we’ll be able to partake of a couple of the choices that Mona made recently on her Desert Island Discs appearance. It’s either Red, Red Wine or
tea with milk and sugar. But now I’m delighted to ask Professor Siddiqui to present her inaugural lecture entitled “Love and Law in Christianity and Islam”. (applause) Dorothy thank you very much for your very generous introduction. Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, friends, colleagues and students, who I’m really pleased to see, it’s a real honour,
and actually a very humbling honour, to see you all here today. And makes me very proud to be
delivering my inaugural at the University of Edinburgh. The title of this lecture, “Love and Law in Christianity and Islam”, sounds rather broad in its scope but touches on both my primary research in classical Islamic jurisprudence and the beginnings of my academic journey into Christian theology. I’m not here to talk of human love,
or law, but to explore how the theological framework of love and law has, rightly or wrongly, encapsulated the way both Islam and Christianity are perceived. Let me begin with a couple of personal anecdotes which have forced me to think about these concepts. Several years ago, a retired academic and church minister at Glasgow University stood next to me in line for morning coffee in the university’s canteen. It was around 8.30 and the canteen was busy serving breakfast. We were both familiar faces at that time in the morning. But on this occasion he came up to me with his breakfast tray and said – you know, Mona, I could never convert to being a Muslim, I would miss bacon so much. (laughter) You don’t know what you’re missing. But this gentleman,
like many other people in the West, was aware that Muslims, like Jews,
generally observe the scriptural prohibition
on eating pig-meat, but couldn’t quite understand why laws of this kind connect you, even bind you, to God. Indeed, he found it faintly amusing that worship of God could be defined, even reduced, to dietary prohibition, especially in relation to such succulent animals like a pig. But even after a brief conversation
in which I tried to explain the issues of ritual slaughter in general and not just the prohibition on pig-meat he couldn’t quite accept, and he said from his Christian perspective, how dietary laws could continue to have any spiritual meaningful relevance in today’s society. In Man’s relationship with God there must be more important ethical issues than what one consumed. During a lecture to a group of Catholic students
in Rome two years ago I was asked by a young nun – How do you Muslims know God loves you? I asked her how she knew God loved her. To which she replied – Jesus died for us. That’s how I know God loves me. His only son died for our sins. This young nun spoke with such conviction about her own beliefs, and seemed to be genuinely puzzled as to how Muslims understand God’s love when there is no distinctive event
to reflect this love. For her neither scripture nor prophecy were enough. It was what God had done to himself,
his movement to show love for his Creation, which mattered. This conversation has been one of several where you can sense that many Christians understand the concept of divine love not as a difference between Islam and Christianity but perhaps asTHEcentral difference, not only is this often understood by clustering Islam and Judaism together, usually against Christianity, as religions of the law, more concerned with right practice and right doctrine, but this approach is further confirmed by acknowledging that while Judaism, Christianity and Islam are monotheistic traditions which speak of God’s love it is Christianity alone which speaks of God’s unconditional love. The argument is that in Islam and Judaism the kind of love which is manifested through the fulfilment of precepts and submission to God’s will –“nomos”– by its very nature speaks of a bilateral commitment between Man and God. In these two religions despite the plurality of words which command an affinity between God and his Creation there is no defining moment when God sealed his love for human beings. I’d also like to add that during my many years teaching Islamic Studies to undergraduates I’ve often used comparisons between Christian theology and Islamic thought as a way of inviting students to think of words and their meanings in different theological and scriptural contexts. But using the word theology here is problematic for the word has for most of its life been regarded as a largely Christian discipline in the academy. And this traditional understanding of theology doesn’t translate neatly into scholarly activity for all world religions including those commonly defined as monotheistic. In 1976 a Sufi perennialist, Fritjof Schuon, drew attention to this issue in his assessment of the discipline of theology within the Christian and Islamic scholarly traditions and he said “Theology does not have, and cannot have, the same function or the same dignity in Islam as in Christianity. “In Christianity it has majestic prototypes in the Gospel of St John, and in the Epistles, followed by venerable models in the writings of fathers of the church and on this foundation it gave rise to the great scholastics, and in the East to the Palamitic doctrine, but theology in Islam has no sacred prototype. “Neither the Qur’an nor thesunna
contain any such thing, and the first theological attempts met with categorical rejection on the part of the traditionalists so that in fact the legitimacy ofkalamremains open or at least not entirely settled. “It would consequently be unjust to wish to compare the two theologies, the Christian and the Muslim.” Schuon is right to an extent. Particularly if one searches for an Islamic theological equivalent to the richly complex Christian doctrines of God. Theology as a discipline doesn’t translate neatly from the Christian context to the Islamic. But I understand theology at its simplest level to mean human attempts to talk about God. In doing theology we are attempting to define and respond to God in some way, for God has spoken. in Islam, prophecy and scripture are inextricably tied to divine communication so that it is principally through Muhammad and the Qur’an that Muslims come to see God as a moral and eschatological reality. There is an understanding that throughout history God sends, and Humanity receives, different forms of God’s communication. And it is in this receiving that Humankind understands something of a God who both hides and reveals himself. Scripture is sent first, and written second. By contrast, scripture and prophecy play a secondary role in Christianity in the sense that through Jesus Christ God no longer offers us a prophetic message pointing to an eschatological reality but rather God offers himself. Traditional theistic interpretations of God’s omnipotence don’t place any obligations on either God’s essence or his attributes. But God chooses to reveal. But why is there revelation in the first place? For the Muslim mystics such as Ibn ‘Arabi, the central ontological question – why there is anything rather than nothing – was made explicit in the famous hadith: “I was a hidden treasure. Then I desired to be known. So I created a Creation. To which I made myself known. “Then they knew me.” The very purpose of Creation is for God to reveal himself. For Ibn ‘Arabi, this is not because God needs Creation in any way to realise his fullness but because God’s creative love is so strong that it triggers off the whole process of Creation. God’s self-identity is timeless. He does not become less God or more God
in the act of Creation. But something within him inspires a movement of creative freedom. The tension between self-revelation
and complete transcendence has exercised the minds of Christian and Muslim scholars for centuries, reconciling a God who is radically one and transcendent, and a God who reveals for a purpose. In both religions God reveals in diverse ways in history, so that we can re-centre ourselves towards him. As Rowan Williams says – “God isTHEpresence,
to which all reality is present.” In developing the relationship between the divine and the human, Muslims focussed on God’s modes and purpose in revelation: the human obligation to submit to reading God’s presence in the Qur’an; and understanding and obeying God’s will in response to revealed text. Christianity saw in revelation an aspect of God’s self-giving, and the centrality of love in Christ, to which Karl Barth said – “God is he who in his revelation seeks and creates fellowship with us. “He does not will to be God for himself.
Nor is God to be alone with himself.” In both faiths revelation is essentially about divine disclosure of a creative desire or love. But these phenomena are located and expressed in very different ways. Against this background the manner of God’s love has been expressed in various ways within monotheism. In Biblical and post-Biblical Judaism love is the principal axis in the relationship
between God and Israel. God’s specific love for the people of Israel is described in the prophetic Book of Hosea: in the Song of Songs God is depicted as a husband or a lover, not as a father. In the Book of Isaiah, God says –
“O Israel, fear not, for I will redeem you,
and I love you.” For some the core commandment of Judaism is Leviticus: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Others have stressed various passages in Deuteronomy which served as the most significant sources for many later authorities. But the German-Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig argues that this commandment to love the neighbour arises out of the unique love God has for the children of Israel, and the centrality of this love is reflected most poignantly in the Shema – “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God.” but he argues that it’s remarkable that
throughout the Torah God demands that Israel love him but never professes love for Israel except in a future sense. That is, if Israel loves God,
he will bless them in return. Love for God is expressed through carrying out the Commandments. But in Jewish midrash it is said that the believer loves that which comes from God, and that is why he studies the Torah. In Islam the doctrine of God began and ended with an affirmation of God’s absolute and complete unity. It was rather the dilemma of obedience to God, not so much in worship,
but in the whole range of human activity, that this proved to be the central theological activity of Western scholars in the classical period and which we call jurisprudence. With no clerical hierarchy in Sunni Islam, with no central focus of authority, classical scholars set the parameters of discourse, both defining and refining the detail, exercising juristic artistry
as well as faithful devotion. As Norman Calder wrote – “Revelation can never be perceived directly as an act of God… “Irrespective of the degree of metaphor discovered in the notion that God writes himself, it is the writings of God’s mediators that are available for analysis.” “Not even of the Qur’an is it claimed that God dictated,
and merely dictated.” The problematics of love and law lie primarily in the fact that in both Islam and Judaism the outsider sees law largely through a prism of ritual, in opposition to the ethical. Law is the external, the public and the ceremonial. Whereas true spiritualism, or true morality, is to be found in the internal, the unstructured, the emotional and the personal. In comparing Muslim and Christian viewpoints on scripture, Zeidan wrote – “The Christian view of scripture as law is far more complex than the Islamic one, as it’s tempered by the doctrine of salvation by faith rather than by obedience to a written law.” The complexity of law in relation to grace finds particular attention in the letters of Paul. Perhaps no other topic in Pauline studies has aroused more discussion and frustration than that of Paul and the law. But if this subject is important, it is also the most difficult. The problem arises from the differing and seemingly contradictory statements that Paul makes about the law, and the function of the law in relation to sin. Paul’s dilemma on the law and sin reaches a particular complexity in his Letters to the Romans – “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?
By no means. “Yet if it had not been for the law,
I would not have known sin.” For the purpose of this talk I need to be brief about Paul. Paul refers to human enslavement as sin, and that even when Humankind tries to do moral good by observing the law, people cannot master
their own passions and desires, and end up doing
exactly what they do not want to do. “It is sin that brings alienation from Creation.
For it is sin that brings alienation from God. “The law cannot rescue Humankind.” Paul expresses a highly paradoxical account of Christian experience. As a faithful Jew he recognised the law as a blessing from God. But as a Christian he also realised that the law taught what sin is. He is at the same time confident of redemption through Christ, but also continues to be aware of the power of sin within him, by failing to observe the law. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ Our Lord,
with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.” It isn’t entirely clear how this paradox is resolved. The sin inherent in Humankind is a barrier to fellowship with God. But for Paul, it is in the presence of grace and eternal love as personified in Christ, where redemption lies. “The law was our guardian until the Messiah came, so we might be justified by faith.” Herein lies a fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam, in that the very nature of sin means that guidance alone can never redeem nor restore that which Humankind has lost. Sin is not a human act but a human condition, in which people are weak and need grace. If prophecy is not enough, neither is guidance, scriptural or otherwise. It is divine grace which must be seen to be active in human life which redeems. From the Muslim perspective, guidance and grace work together, not to transform us into a condition but to lead us to God. Although Islamic thought does not have the equivalence of the complex Christian doctrinal debates such as incarnation, the trinity and the resurrection, it has an inner story of God which has been lost to some extent in the modern preoccupation with simplifying prescriptive obedience through the generalised and misused notion of Sharia. If theology at its simplest level is fundamentally a human attempt to talk of God then the various intellectual disciplines of Islam, speculative theology, philosophy, jurisprudence and mysticism, are all examples of understanding the relationship of human beings to God. They are all ways of reflecting upon God, his will, and his nature. The intellectual response to God is no less than worship itself because belief in God demands an obligation to talk of God. Silence, even contemplative silence, is not enough. And I’m reminded here of the last part of Socrates’ Phaedrus [sic] and the comparison between a painting and the written words, both of which talk to us, while maintaining a majestic silence. So it’s up to the exegetes to give voice to this majestic silence. Christianity and Islam have their distinct interpretive traditions but the reception of the Divine Word
is different for each. In Christianity scripture is secondary to the event of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The incarnation is the mystery of the divine
taking on human form, and thus becoming the essential structure at the very core of a Christian understanding of God. Jesus’ role is salvific,
whereas Muhammad’s role is prophetic. The structure and manifestation of God’s love in Christianity is fundamentally different from that in Islam. As for scripture itself, the Biblical narrative of God’s love is dramatic, not just poetic. When one looks for similar verses of God’s love for humanity and his Creation in the Qur’an, they can appear quite different, even timid,
in comparison with their Biblical counterpart, such as the love narrative in John’s gospel. When one reads the Qur’anic verses which explicitly mention God’s love the expression of this love is varied, situational, often logical, to the human mind, but it is just one Qur’anic motif among many others. The roothabba– “to love” – and its derivatives, best reflect the various dimensions of what God loves but also what God doesn’t love. God loves those who keep themselves pure. Do good, for God loves those who do good. Do not transgress limits, for God
does not love the transgressor. But maybe the most surprising thing is that
in the Qur’an there is no commandment to love God. Yet it was the same Quranic verses which inspired the exuberance of love themes in Sufi literature. In Islamic thought other than in Sufi literature the love rhetoric has been virtually eclipsed by the rhetoric of obedience as the discussions around law gradually took pre-eminence in Islam’s intellectual heritage as well as in popular piety. Even amongst the Sufi mystics,
systematic theories of divine love did not develop in early Islamic mysticism. There are few works which provide a complete theory of divine love. Nevertheless it is still through the
rich and wide prism of Sufi poetry where the theme of God’s cosmic love has been most sharply felt. The Sufis kept a distinction between
how God loves Man and how Man loves, or should love, God. Love in its various manifestations
is part of the world order, the cosmic order, but there is no particular word
which defines the relationship of love between God and Man. So that the concept of love carries within it the sense of both the divine and the profane. The challenge for the Sufis was
to define how God loves but also whether love, which implies a need amongst human beings, can be attributed to a perfect God,
who has no need. Furthermore not all Sufis agreed with
the conventional dichotomies posed by the distinction between love directed to God
and love directed to human beings. In different ways in the Qur’an
the emphasis on human worship of God remains the principal, if not the only, explanation as to why human beings were created. Ibn ‘Arabi however drew a connection between love and worship so that worship of God was not about knowing God or obedience to him, but essentially about loving him. For Ibn ‘Arabi, love becomes a universal principle, encompassing the actions of all Creation. Human beings may not be able to attribute a beginning or purpose to God’s love, but, he writes –
“We came from love.
We are created in love.” Inspired by the Quranic vocabulary of love and mercy, as well as the divine names, many Sufis see the whole of the cosmos as pulsating with the love which flows from God, and the sheer ecstasy of desiring God. I’m just gonna give a couple of examples. (Quoting from Sufi mystic Rabia Basri) “You have infused my being Through and through, As an intimate friend must Always do. “So when I speak I speak of only You, And when silent, I yearn for You.” (Quoting Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi) “The voice of love
Each moment comes
From everywhere We were in Heaven once We were friends to angels once, To that place let us return, That is our country, our home. “Higher than heavens, we are. “Greater than angels, we are. “Why not leave them both behind? “Our goal is Majesty, divine.” And perhaps my favourite, Rumi’s most favourite line. “However must I describe Love’s qualities? “When I am in it, my words aren’t adequate. “The tongue can throw some light on it But Love is most illumined by silence When the pen was busy writing it was fluent When it reached the word of Love, it broke down.” It seems to me that if the pen broke, when it ‘reached the word of Love’, that it may be more difficult, if not impossible, to define the extent of God’s love based on the usage of loving terms in the Qur’an, especially when the Qur’an tells us that it contains that which is hidden, and which remains with God. The Quranic God is intimately but not openly tied to the lives of his Creation. He retains the element of secrecy of self by speaking only through inspiration,
or from behind a veil, never revealing himself directly to Humankind. This secrecy motif is presented throughout the Qur’an in various ways. God hides and reveals. God knows the secrets of our hearts. But human beings do not know the secrets of God. To God belong all that is in the heavens and on Earth. Whether you know what is in it yourselves, or conceal it, God calls you to account. But this did not preclude Muslims understanding the Qur’an as saying something about God, and viewing the Qur’an as
a glimpse into God’s being and mercy. The love vocabulary complements that which lies at the very core of divine engagement with Creation. The fundamental term which allows us
a glimpse of God’s nature is not in the principle of love, but in the principle of mercy. The Qur’an is replete with
a vocabulary of compassion as a defining essence of God. “O my servants who have transgressed against themselves, despair not of the mercy of God,
for God forgives all: for He is oft-forgiving, most merciful.” But this overwhelming mercy is a mystery for it is essentially a plea from God to Humankind not to despair of his mercy. Mercy, unlike love, is not bilateral. Human beings cannot have mercy on God. But God chooses, indeed desires, to be merciful to human beings. Indeed there is a tradition where a believer implores God to keep him away from sin, and God’s response is –
“All my believing servants ask this from me, but if I should keep them away from sin,
upon whom will I bestow my blessings, and to whom will I grant forgiveness?” Despite the charge often levelled at
the Quranic God, that he loves conditionally, most Muslim theologians and Sufis did not see any conditionality in this relationship. The foremost theologian of the Islamic world,
al-Ghazali, considers both love and law to be central tenets of Islam
and being a Muslim. He didn’t see any conditionality in the prior fulfilment of the law, but rather sees observance of the law as a sublime way to show love for God. Al-Ghazali describes a mystical states and stations towards God by concluding that the love of God is the highest in rank and the last stage in drawing towards God before repentance and patience. Love is not a means to God. Love is the end station. But the acquisition of the love of God is the end. He emphasises that loving God and loving the Prophet are compulsory, that the meaning of faith is a love for God and his Prophet more than anything else. And like Augustine he stresses that real love is love of God, not love of self. Al-Ghazali’s quite clear that love of God means something more than mere obedience, while equally insisting that Muslims must be obedient. The intimacy of love,
the intimacy of law in relation to God, is such that the Prophet is presented as saying –
“Worship has ten parts;
nine of those are the seeking of the lawful.” It is possible to say that seeking knowledge of the lawful and the unlawful is considered by most Muslim theologians to be not only a form of worship but perhapsthemost important aspect
of worship. Even though the Islamic tradition is full of examples which emphasise divine love over human obedience. A desert Arab asked the Prophet that he had not prepared for the Day of Judgment by way of fasting or prayers but he did love God, and his Prophet. The Prophet replies –
“He who loves one will be with him.” It is said that love of God, even to the measure of a mustard seed, is dearer to me than divine service for 70 years without love. The law to which al-Ghazali refers is a complex issue. Right path is a path to salvation. And this is contained not just in creedal formulae but in the vast corpus of writings
on correct behaviour which dominated the Muslim intellectual output. The technical Muslim word which is used to convey the sense of practical faith, as ordained by God,
is Sharia. Commonly but misleadingly translated into English as ‘Islamic law’. Law implies a set of rules, a set of precepts, imposed upon society, and Sharia is not a superimposed structure on society. It designates religion in its totality, not just duties. Sharia is then not fixed divine legislation of God, but rather a process of uncovering ethical behaviour. By some it is seen as normative ethics, but it is fundamentally an ideal. It is God’s law which a science of jurisprudence must endeavour to uncover and relate for the spiritual and practical benefits of the faithful. The jurists’ perception of the written law is that it’s a reflection of his faith. A vehicle for conveying moral and material standards within the framework of his faith, but going against the law is part of being human. When the Muslim tradition speaks of
divine forgiveness and hope, it recognises the inevitability of human wrongdoing, which will be met by divine mercy. There is a tradition – when the servant commits a sin, and asks God for pardon, God says to his angels –
“Look at my servant. He has committed a sin, and he knows that he has a lord who will pardon and take away the sin.” “I testify to you that I have pardoned him.” “And according to the tradition,
if the servant were to sin so that his sins were to reach the clouds in the skies, “I would pardon him,
insofar as he asked pardon of me,
and hoped in me.” The law narrative has often played out against a love narrative, but the two should not be perceived as
opposing paradigms. But love and law continue to conceptualise both faiths, and often in rather simplistic terms, namely that Christianity is a religion of love, through its understanding of Jesus Christ, whereas Islam is a religion of law, through its understanding of the Qur’an. This has been amplified through generations by many Christians. In his own deliberation on dialogue with Islam, Hans Küng wrote –
“The portrait of Jesus in the Qur’an is all too one-sided, too monotone, and for the most part
lacking in content, apart from monotheism, the call to repentance, and various accounts of miracles. “At any rate, it is very different from the portrait of Jesus in history, who not only confirms the law, as the Qur’an records, but rather encounters all legalism with radical love, which even extends to his enemies. That is why he was executed, but the Qur’an fails to recognise this.” But to appreciate the law and love dialectic we must understand the prior story, namely the overlapping concepts of how evil and sin entered the world. Gustave E. von Grunebaum wrote very succinctly –
“Evil is the point where the perpetual contradictions of our existence intersect: our knowledge that we are free, our knowledge that we are not; our knowledge that we are masters and creators, and our knowledge that we are frail and transitory feeble beings, multiply conditioned, and that our works along with ourselves are condemned to bear the stigma of its futility.” One of the major challenges
for Christian theologians has been to understand evil, not just in terms of the Augustinian notion of the fall and redemptive salvation, but in the earthly and metaphysical dilemma posed by the relationship between an all-knowing benevolent God, with conditioned or unconditioned omnipotence, and human freedom to resist God’s goodness. For Augustine the precursors of sin and death, the consequences of sex and sexual desire, Adam and Eve’s fall, resulted in a basic disorder between the flesh and spirit. But he tried to exonerate God from any blame by attributing evil to the choices of human will. For Augustine the moral life finds its meaning in interpretive representation of God as love. In the Irenaean type of theodicy, Humankind did not emerge as a finitely perfect, but as an immature, being who needed to develop, and mature within the challenges of this world. In the two-stage process of human development, Mankind is not born perfect, but rather perfection lies in the future. To grow into that perfect being, while exercising genuine freedom, requires a certain distance from God, in a world where God is not overwhelmingly evident, but where Humankind has the freedom to grow to know and love him. But Islamic theology both classical and modern
has been less occupied with this subject as it could be argued that for the most part, most Sunni theologians generally denied that humans have the freedom to act. Furthermore while free will was understood as a necessary corollary of the power to choose good, and for some reflected ultimately on a God who is good, it is very difficult to be exact about any ontological definition of a word like ‘evil’ in Islam. The variety of words in the Qur’an, and later Islamic tradition, to encompass a sense of human wrongdoing and human erring, do not themselves contain anything similar to the depth of differing but related views of terrible human wrongdoing and human suffering which have occupied the minds of Christian and Western theologians. With the exception of a few medieval thinkers, the issue of evil was not approached directly but rather subsumed within the larger discussions around the unity of God and the goodness of God. So I think Max Weber was right to say that Islam lacks a sense of tragic which comes from the feeling of sin. This theme is reflected in the writings of 20th century Christian missionaries who travelled to Muslim lands. The Dutch reformist theologist, Hendrik Kraemer, identified a common perception among Christians, that Islam is a simple religion, in which submission to God’s will and majesty encapsulates the very heart of the faith. He wrote –
“Islam may be called a religion that has almost no questions and no answers. “In a certain respect its greatness lies there because this questionless and answerless condition is a consistent exemplification of its deeper spirit, expressed in the name: Islam, that is, ‘absolute surrender’.” But whereas Muslims rightly or wrongly see virtue in this simplicity, Kraemer saw in it superficiality. He identified two significant reasons behind this superficiality. Firstly the mechanical idea of revelation in Islam, a rigid form which has become externalised and fossilised, and this is in opposition to Biblical realism, and God constantly acting in holy sovereign freedom, conclusively embodied in the man Jesus Christ. But his second point is the superficiality of Islam lies in its clumsy external conception of sin and salvation. Denying that there is any anthropology in Islam, he’s amazed that despite Islam having its historical roots in the Bible, there is nothing of the stirring problems of God and Man that are involved in the terms sin and salvation. But why did Kraemer think this? The Christian story of the fall has its parallel in the fall of Iblis in Islam. In the Qur’an, Adam’s first act of freedom is also his first act of disobedience, but despite Adam’s actions the Quranic story focusses on divine forgiveness of this disobedience. And the transition of Man to Earth. Not as a punishment but because Humankind was always destined for the Earth. It was here that Humankind would find his new role. And in fact the Indian philosopher Muhammad Iqbal commented –
“Adam’s transgression was not a loss, and not an act of moral depravity: it is Man’s transition from simple consciousness to the first flash of self-consciousness, a kind of waking from the dream of nature.” In Iqbal’s view it is not that God desires to keep Humankind from becoming more aware, but Adam’s inherent human impulse is to reach out for autonomous experience and knowledge. His sin is that of being too inquisitive. For Iqbal, good and evil fall within the same whole of Creation, because both are predicated on God’s risk-taking, faith in humanity, and human freedom to choose. The philosopher rather than the Sufi in Iqbal had faith in Man’s ego, so much so that for Iqbal,
Man had an independent capacity
for his ultimate salvation. The onus is on Man, not on God. As Iblis who is now the cursed Satan, expelled from Paradise,
finds his new destiny on Earth, his future is now intertwined with that of Humankind. He vows to whisper temptation to all of us with the sole purpose of leading people astray, but the Qur’an does not explain why God gave Iblis this reprieve. If he is now the personification of the source of potential and real wrongdoing, rejected by God, his nature and purpose is based on the intent to destroy goodness, beginning with the sexual innocence
in Adam and Eve’s relationship. The awareness he arouses in Adam and Eve is not an increased awareness of love of the divine but that of the profane and again, Schuon expresses this –
“Loving each other, Adam and Eve loved God; they could neither love God nor know God. After the fall they loved each other outside God for themselves, and they knew each other as separate phenomena, not as theophanies; this new kind of love was concupiscence
and this new kind of knowing was profanity.” However one understands this narrative, at one level the Quranic story is essentially
a story of struggle, but not alienation from a transcendent God. So faith in God is not an antidote to evil, but faith kept alive can counteract all the passion and tragedy of evil. Evil is not some objective maligned force, as the French social theorist Baudrillard says –
“a deliberate perversion of the order of the world”. The Qur’an itself does not give any abstract analysis of tragedy, evil and human loss, but repeats the theme of human propensity to do wrong, and the divine essence to forgive. Why evil, moral and natural, exists alongside an infinitely good God, whether some evil is necessary, were not questions which occupied the world-view of the majority of Muslim thinkers. Why humans have to suffer natural disasters, or be subject to unbearable pain, are issues often dissolved, not resolved, within the arguments for an omnipotent and just God. While much of Islamic thought tried to absolve God of actively creating evil deeds, and leading people astray, it recognised that human wrongdoing is part of the divine plan, that God has a stake, in both the good that we do and the evil that we do. So evil, wrongdoing, accompanies us
along life’s journeys, and human beings have a part of the natural order, live with the struggle of choosing right over wrong. Evil is not a contradiction,
but a challenge to human life. In this pursuit of the good life, God’s revelation guides against all forms of wrong, but human conscience has been vulnerable from the time of Adam. Human nature is not tainted nor defined by evil. Evil is seen largely
through the prism of human choice rather than divine damnation. So evil is not a state, but acts. Minus the tragic element of sin, as evident in much of Christian theological reflection, evil loses its transcendental dimension and can appear to be reduced to the more prosaic, even the banality, of human wrongdoing. But in Islamic thought, wrongdoing is corrosive, futile for the individual and society, and leads ultimately to an evasion of moral responsibility. It is through the possibility of wrongdoing, repentance and subsequent discernment that Humankind hopes to attain moral growth. Once committed, wrongdoing, wilful or inflicted, has the capacity to transform us into something better, and while ultimately everything comes down to God’s grace, we ourselves bear some responsibility for our redemption. And so Iblis is a symbolic but necessary player in the human quest for salvation, because without him there is nothing for intelligence to master. I conclude, God’s revelation, as guiding revelation, is not the central theme of sin, evil and salvation in Christian doctrine. Maurice Wiles writes that –
“The Christian tradition has never believed that men needed only to be shown the truth about God and about human life. “Sin has usually been regarded as more fundamental than ignorance. Men need not only to be enlightened; they need to be changed. “The forgiveness and transformation of men are at least as basic to Christ’s mission as the impartation of knowledge and illumination.” Sin constitutes the most critical alienation from God, self and others, because it creates a profound rupture in one’s relationship with God. In Reinhold Niebuhr’s “The Nature and Destiny of Man” he wrote – “The Christian estimate of evil is so serious precisely because it places evil at the very centre of human personality: in the will. “Sin is occasioned precisely by the fact that man refuses to admit his ‘creatureliness’, and to acknowledge himself as merely a member of total unity of life. Man pretends to be more than he is.” Niebuhr believed that ultimate salvation
is not a moral possibility, that the sinful self-contradiction in the human spirit
cannot be overcome by moral action. For him human life remains contradictory in its sin, no matter how human culture rises, but the God of Christian faith is not only Creator,
but redeemer. He doesn’t allow human existence to end tragically. He snatches victory from defeat. He himself is defeated in history, but
he is also victorious in that defeat. Divine love is central to Christianity, because we cannot reconcile ourselves to God, only God can reconcile himself to us. In Christianity, God is a God of love; indeed God is love. Even though theologians have wrestled with what is meant by ‘God is love’, there remains in Christianity a fundamental conviction that neither God nor humanity can be understood outside the pluriform expressions of divine love. God loves humankind, and this has dominated Christian theology. In his classic work “Agape and Eros”, Nygren argued that God’s love is a gift prompted by the very nature of God, to love. While both Islam and Christianity talk of a loving God, Islam relying on the concept of mercy for a more expansive definition of love, in my view there is a profound structural difference in the way love is conceptualised in both religions. By focussing primarily on its human manifestation in Christ, love in Christianity is a redemptive act, becomes visible on The Cross, and is power in the paradox of the weakness of The Cross. In Christianity, evil is both a structural and an accidental element, where in Islam evil is an accidental element only. Thus in Christian thought,
salvation does not
come about through our best efforts. It is not some happy state to which we can lift ourselves. It is an utterly new creation
into which we are brought by our death, by our death in Jesus’ death, and our resurrection in his. Post-modern philosophers like Slavoj Zizek, while accusing Christ of wanting our very souls when they say they don’t want anything from us, saw in the coming of Christ the descent of the sublime beyond, to the everyday level. This does not mean that we renounce transcendence completely, but that in him, transcendent realm becomes accessible, as imminent transcendence. Christianity is a religion of love, for God does not remain in the sublime beyond. Thomas Altizer also argued that –
“After the incarnation there is no transcendent God. “Christians do not take this incarnation seriously, as long as they combine the doctrine of the incarnation, with a belief in a transcendent, a sovereign and impassive God.” But in Islam there is no divine incarnation, and neither is prophecy messianic, nor Muhammad the redeemer. God’s love is manifest by the risk he takes in humanity, by giving Man both faith and freedom to work towards a moral life. We have the choice to use, both to transform ourselves to a higher state of consciousness, we have the choice to use our freedom. But humankind is not damned by the impossibility of overcoming sin because there is no sinless place to which we can return, only a better place which we might create. What matters is continued belief and hope in God, not the sins we commit. We don’t need to be saved from sin, but rather from unbelief. Islam has a different concern, it lifts God back into the transcendent, not in the sense of a distant God, but a God who chooses to retain the secrets of himself. But despite keeping this distance between Man and God, the faithful have remained restless to do away with that which separates us from God, even in this life. And I conclude with this: Nowhere has this desire to eradicate the distance between the human and the divine been more hauntingly expressed than in the words of the great Sufi poet, Abdul Quddus, who refers to The Prophet’s night’s journey to the heavens where he saw God – “Muhammad of Arabia ascended the highest heaven, and returned. “I swear by God, that if I had reached that point,
I should never have returned.” Thank you. (applause) Thank you so much Mona. I think that was a fantastic demonstration of just why we’re so proud to have you as part of our Professoriat here. Something that was so rich, so scholarly, so creative, but at the same time accessible to those of us not only within your area of scholarship, but also those of us from outside, so thank you very much. Mona’s very kindly agreed to take some time to answer some questions, which I’m sure we have a number of. If you could wait for the microphone to come to you. (Questioner) Thank you very much for a very moving exploration of differences and points of contact between two traditions. In the more Catholic dimensions of the tradition there’s not just a connection between the love of God and the love of neighbour, but forms of almost confusion between them, productively, which often emerge through an experimentation with Plato’s language of participating in God’s life. And in the somewhat more Protestant versions of Christian practice and thought, you were experimenting with, do you find there are points of contact in Muslim-Christian relationship on questions of participation as well? And would they be oriented more to exploring the Qur’an? Or would that propel us more into the medieval tradition of exegesis and even mysticism? So do you think the points of contact are most fruitfully developed through scriptural interactions on the one hand, or, if we’re to engage with questions of participation, in the more mystical traditions? Thanks. I think every contact yields its own fruit. I think it depends more on why you want the participation in the first place. What is it that you’re hoping to get out of that connection? But I think today, if I look at the historical survey of how Christians and Muslims have talked to each other, people don’t talk of doctrine any more. Even though there are circles that do scriptural reasoning or various textual analysis, we don’t really talk about the kind of doctrines that Christians and Muslims talked about in the 8th, 9th Century. And perhaps that’s a good thing, because you can’t resolve them. They were points of contact. And perhaps participation is a good word, because actually it allows you to be free to decide – What is it that I want to create in my participation? With somebody of another faith. Whether it’s a good society, whether it’s a deeper learning of that faith, whether it’s just a human contact, I think they’re all beneficial. But I think a lot depends on intention. Other questions? (Questioner) Thanks very much for that wonderful survey of the range of thought that exists within both traditions, that neither Christianity nor Islam are monolithic. One of the most interesting recent Muslim documents about Christianity is the “A Common Word”, which is based on the love of God and the love of neighbour, in expressing Muslim thinking about Christianity. How successful do you think their exposition was, of the love of God and the love of neighbour as major themes within the Islamic tradition? I don’t actually like the Common Word. So I don’t know what to say about that document. And I didn’t endorse it either. But I think it was I suppose in some ways seen in the modern period as a real effort by Muslims to come to Christians with some kind of collective voice and say – Let us talk about something. But I think the problem with the Common Word document, inasmuch as I know of it, is that it simplifies these two very concepts, love of God and love of neighbour, and in a practical sense you could say –
Well, we can make these concepts as simple as we want. We can love our neighbour, not think what it means in scripture. We have to discover who our neighbour is today though, and I think that in some ways “A Common Word” kind of tied people’s hands by saying –
This is what we’re going to discuss, and love of God and love of neighbour means the same thing in both religious traditions. On a practical level it might, but I think you have to be clear – do you mean on a scriptural level, or a practical level, or as Nick says, in a kind of participatory way that we can come together and create something new. But I think it glossed the issues. Perhaps a couple more questions. Nick again. I shall abuse my position to ask a second question. Rowan Williams gave an extraordinary lecture a few years ago at a gathering of Christians and Muslims, in which he suggested that points of contact between Christians and Muslims could well be fruitfully explored through doctrinal exploration and textual reading. But what would really bring people into forms of contact where they could build things together was something which he invented on the spot it seemed which was comparative hagiography, a way of presenting saintly, holy lives from the two traditions to each other, exploring how lives lived out together would enable forms of interaction. And do you see much prospect of comparative hagiography here in Edinburgh, Mona? (laughter) I’m surrounded by saints in New College. I don’t think we have the expertise to be honest, to do that kind of work, in most inter-religious circles. And again I think it depends on what you want to get out of any kind of connection with people of other faiths. For a start, it’s absolutely true that whereas there are quite a few Christian scholars who know of Islam, there are very few Muslim scholars who know anything of Christianity, at a deeper level. And you may argue – well, why is that important, if our participation is about coming together in some kind of practical sense to make society better? But I’m – I think we don’t need to call ourselves Christians and Muslims to do that. We call ourselves Christians and Muslims for another reason. And I think when we are in scholarly circles we cannot have a good discussion while we’re not having like for like. We need equal weight on both sides. And I think we’re a long way away from that. (Questioner) Thanks, I really enjoyed your talk. I’ve sometimes said the comparison between Islam and Christianity in terms of God’s love, that with a trinitarian concept of God, in eternity, that the persons within the triune God, have this relationship of love to each other, and I suppose that in Islam and Judaism that is, there’s no kind of conception of interpersonal love, in eternity. I just wonder if you’d like to comment on that? Yes, no, I haven’t talked of that. I mean I’ve had many Christian theologians who’ve said to me that
the Christian God is not a solitary God. Whereas the Muslim God is a solitary God, or the God of the Jews and Muslims is a solitary God. But other than the definition of the Trinity, and its interpersonal relations
in the three-foldedness of it, I don’t understand how, at a human level, that love translates in any way any different to how Muslims and Jews – I’ll say Muslims for the sake of this lecture – might experience God’s love. I think in defining God within the triune nature is a very distinct way of defining God, and a relational love, but if I’m talking about how many Christians approach me and say – We know God loves not only because he sent Jesus to us, or Jesus dies for our sins, but also because there’s a trinitarian aspect to it, I’m still puzzled as to how that translates into a deeper love for humankind though. It is a loving relationship within itself you could argue, I think that’s what you’re saying, but I’m more concerned with how does that relate itself to us. Can I just comment on that? I think my understanding would be that human beings are made in the image of God, so of a triune God, and I suppose that eternal relationship within the Trinity is, or should be reflected in our own interpersonal relations. (Prof Siddiqui) But can you not have human love without a trinitarian concept of God? (Questioner) I’m sure you can, yes. But I suppose that’s just how, I think, it’s seen in Christian theology, I’m sure. (Prof Siddiqui) I mean just on that point: often, Jews, Christians and Muslims come together and say – We all believe that Man is made in the image of God. Nowhere in the Qur’an does it say Man is made in the image of God. This is one of those big myths that comes together in Abrahamic settings. And it’s not said there because Man is not made in the image of God, but Man is just a representative God. And I think there’s a big difference there. (Prof Miell) We may have time for one more. (Questioner) Thank you. You spoke in your answers to some of the previous questions about asking what the impulse is for,
if for example we’re talking about participation – What is it for? In your delineations of love and divine love in the Islamic context, what is it for for you, in putting these thoughts together? Is this primarily instructive, for an audience of the faithful, who need a model for how divine love is understood in the Islamic context? Or is it something to show, to demonstrate to those outwith Islam, this tradition, has these concerns with divine love? If you could talk a bit more about your intentions in putting these thoughts together. I think it’s primarily because of the simplifications we make, and still make, both in the academy, but also in society as a whole, that there are these binary positions:
Christianity is all about love, Islam is all about law.
Whereas, I’m sure most people know that the answer isn’t all that black and white. It’s still important to explore why is there more of a texture in both than what is commonly perceived. But I think it also has a political aspect to it, especially after 9/11, where there is quite a serious discourse about that Muslims cannot be part of the monotheistic tradition because the Muslim God is fundamentally different to the Christian God. The Christian God is about love, the Christian God is about self-emptying, the Christian God is about giving. Whereas a Muslim God is about obedience, and if you don’t obey it’s about punishment, and so therefore Muslims have such a kind of linear black and white understanding of what obedience is, so okay this might not translate into extremist evangelical circles, but I think it’s still important to have these discussions and to say that actually these positions are far more difficult and complex than we would like to think they are. And also for Muslims to understand that law is not just about black and white obedience; law has a far greater depth in Islamic thought than what is commonly perceived through the over-used concept of Sharia. Thankyou. I think many of us will have other questions that we would like to put to Mona, but I think that’s perhaps more appropriately done downstairs in a more informal setting. So once again I’d like to ask you to join me in thanking Mona Siddiqui for a wonderful inaugural lecture. (applause)


  1. Yes, this lecture now has manually-created captions in English. You can view them by clicking on "… More" and selecting "Transcript".

  2. Quran love and mercy verses : #1)“€œFight against those who do not obey
    Allah and do not believe in Allah or the Last Day and do not forbid
    what has been forbidden by Allah and His messenger even if they are of
    the People of the Book until they pay the Jizya with willing submission
    and feel themselves subdued.”€ 9:29
    Sourat al Touwba.
    #2) 9:5 “€œWhen the sacred months have passed, then kill the Mushrikin
    wherever you find them. Capture them. Besiege them. Lie in wait for them
    in each and every ambush but if they repent, and perform the prayers,
    and give zacat then leave their way free.”€ 9:5. #3) 2:191
    And kill them wherever you overtake them, and expel them from where
    they had expelled you. Oppression is more serious than murder. But do
    not fight them at the Sacred Mosque, unless they fight you there. If
    they fight you, then kill them. Such is the retribution of the
    disbelievers. 2:191 Surat Al baqara.#4) 2:193
    And fight them until there is no oppression, and worship becomes
    devoted to God alone.#5) 2: 244  Fight in the cause of God, and know
    that God is Hearing and Knowing.
    #6) 47:4 When you encounter those who disbelieve, strike at their
    necks. Then, when you have routed them, bind them firmly. Then, either
    release them by grace, or by ransom, until war lays down its burdens.
    #7) 3: 151  We will throw terror into the hearts of those who
    disbelieve, because they attribute to God partners for which He
    revealed no sanction. Their lodging is the Fire. Miserable is the
    lodging of the evildoers.#8) 4:74  Let those who sell the life of this
    world for the Hereafter fight in the cause of God. Whoever fights in the
    cause of God, and then is killed, or achieves victory, We will grant
    him a great compensation.#9) 8: 12  i am with you, so support those who
    believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. So
    strike above the necks, and strike off every fingertip of theirs."#10)
    9: 123  O you who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who attack
    you, and let them find severity in you, and know that God is with the
    righteous.#11) 4:89  They would love to see you disbelieve, just as they
    disbelieve, so you would become equal. So do not befriend any of them,
    unless they emigrate in the way of God. If they turn away, seize them
    and execute them wherever you may find them; and do not take from among
    them allies or supporters.### so technically here you have to kill me
    according to muhammad's Quran , bring your sword and come on slay me
    like ISIS , me the kafir disbeliever

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